To simplify and streamline the process of preparing adventures, I have created an ”Adventure Template”. It contains the complete list of things you need to figure out to be able to run the game.
Advantages of using the template
- Use it to write your own adventures, or organize your prep of the published modules.
- Prep what matters, don’t prep what doesn’t. Spend your energy only on things that enhance the game.
- Clear, attainable goals. Always have a concrete, specific task to accomplish. This removes the confusion and ambiguity about what to do next, which is the main cause of the “writer’s block”.
- Works well for both low-prep improv-focused GMs, as well as for people who prefer more detailed prep. You start by creating the key information about your adventure, which you can build your improv on top of, and then you expand it into the list of more detailed “Scenes”, to the degree that you find necessary.
- Peace of mind. Answering all the questions gives you all the key information you need for a good adventure.
- Works great with “Lazy DM” prep method (including Secrets and Clues), Node-Based Scenario Design, and Island Design Theory. You design the most important parts of an adventure (challenges, NPCs, locations, clues, etc) in a modular way, which allows you to improvise and modify things on the fly during the game in response to the players’ choices. Then you assemble these parts into scenes, allowing you to outline the “default” flow of your adventure, how it’s intended to be played through. If (when) the players do something unexpected, you can drop the modular parts into your scenes as needed (if the players decide to go to location B instead of the location A, they can meet the NPCs, deal with challenges, or find the clues there instead).
Tips on using the template in your writing process
- Use the template as a “living document” you incrementally fill in as you come up with new ideas and build your adventure.
- Set deadlines. Aim to complete one stage per day (feel free to go faster, but try not to go slower). Do the best you can within the time-frame that you have. Try to complete the first draft as quickly as possible, create the simplest playable adventure. Then if you have more time - list the most important things you’d like to improve, and focus on them.
- Avoid perfectionism. Answer questions, make creative choices, commit to them, and move on to the next task. Don’t try to complete each task perfectly, that slows you down and gets you stuck.
- Go through the steps in order. Each part of the template asks you a question, and writing an adventure is the matter of answering them one by one.
- Make lists. To answer a question, quickly list 5 possible answers you can think of, and pick your favorite one. Don’t try to come up with the best answers right away - aim for “good enough”. If it’s not great - that’s okay, use it as a placeholder, improve it later, after the first draft is complete.
- Blank Page vs Lego Blocks. Don’t try to invent everything from scratch. Instead of staring at the blank page and trying to make something up - take parts from your favorite movies, TV shows, books, or games, and assemble the adventure out of them, using them as lego blocks. If you’re struggling with a question (a story idea, a character, a location, etc) - don’t hesitate to take an answer from a book or a movie. You can use it as a placeholder to tweak and replace later, you can combine multiple ideas to make something new, or you can use one with minimal changes. You can even just take a TV episode or a published adventure, mine it for ideas and answers, and use this process to adapt it to your game.
- Use the Reddit’s hivemind. If you get stuck - make a post on /r/DMAcademy or /r/DnDAdventureWriter and ask for help with brainstorming ideas or answering questions.
Using the template for different genres
- For mystery adventures, focus on clues. Instead of giving information to the players right away, hide it behind the clues. Clues are pieces of information that encourage players to take action, give them tasks to accomplish, lead the players from scene to scene, guiding them through the plot of the adventure. From the initial question (who done it? what’s going on here?) to the solution. Think of the scenes as the “rooms” in a dungeon, and clues as the keys unlocking the doors between them. Players complete the challenges inside the scenes/rooms, which allows them to find clues to unlock more scenes. Create 3 clues for each conclusion players need to reach (the “door” leading to the next scene).
- For heist adventures, focus on creating interesting environmental and stealth challenges (use the list of challenge prompts for ideas). Think about the challenges as the plan stages the players need to go through to commit the heist, and figure out what can make them difficult, which complications may arise.
- For intrigue adventures, focus on the NPCs/factions, their goals and relationships, and use the social challenges (from the list of prompts).
- Mix multiple genres for variety. Instead of writing a convoluted mystery or an elaborate heist, create adventures combining simple challenges from mystery/investigation, stealth/heist, social/intrigue, exploration, and action/adventure genres. This provides more variety, and is easier to write as well (a big mystery/heist adventure can get complicated, but a small mystery/heist challenge or a scene is fun and easy to make).
There’s also a blank version of the template with all the questions removed, just the empty sections for you to fill in. Just click “File > Make a Copy” to create a copy of the template in your own google doc, and start writing!